Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Some Backstory - My Brother

Originally posted on 1/28/2006 01:53:00 PM
For explanation of this post go here. New comments in in [brackets].

Over at Either End of the Curve the other day, I got involved in another discussion about education. [Reader has since taken her blog off-line. - Outis 7/1/2008] Taking a customarily humble approach I told Reader_Iam (RIA) how to go about educating her son. Specifically, I told her she and her husband should home school him. (He's currently in kindergarten.)

I said this based on a combination of my loathing of the US education system and my opinion of RIA's abilities to pull this off. Admittedly, I don't really know RIA, so I can only judge by what I've read. But for the moment let that pass. Let the idea that someone is going to take the advice of someone they don't know when it comes to child-rearing slide as well, because clearly they won't.

Still, I've promised to comment further on my position, and that requires giving some family background.

My mother and father, while perhaps not a great match marriage-wise, were an excellent match genetically. My brother and I both have IQs that were (and maybe still are) in excess of 140, and my sister was in the 125-140 range. (Actually, she may be brighter than that, but she's convinced that she isn't. It must have been frustrating growing up around my older brother.) My brother is 18 years my senior, and my sister is 13 years older than I am. (Yes, I was a bit of a surprise.) We've all been fairly healthy, although we all seem to be disposed to depression. So we're not in bad shape out of the gate. None of this is meant as bragging, as I'm long past being impressed with my own or anyone else's intelligence. It is merely meant to set the stage.

My brother was destined to have problems in school. He was an astounding test-taker, but refused to do any of the work for any of his classes. Or at least that's the common story. I know there is more, but I don't know how much.

One year my parents managed to scrape together the money to send him to a private school for 8th grade. By all accounts, it was his happiest and most productive year in school. Many years later I found one of his textbooks from that year. It was a history text, and quite challenging. I didn't see a textbook as difficult until I got to college. I find it no coincidence that the most challenging year he had was also the happiest.

But for whatever reason, that was the only year he spent there. No one has ever told me why, but I've always assumed that it had to do with my father's drinking and financial incompetence.

So the next year, my brother ends up in Maynard Evans High School. Or Hell, as some of us remember it. Whatever challenge he had faced academically before couldn't prepare him for this. Evans at that time (as opposed to my time, or currently) was a good school. But like most schools, it was rather regimented, complete with all of the requisite make-work and social weirdness. He did not adapt. It was here that he discovered drugs, and probably sex as well. (Rock and roll had been discovered much earlier, I'm sure. My sister was an Elvis fan from birth. She must have picked it up somewhere.)

Despite all of this, he learned something somewhere. At some point, he was subjected to some standard test. His result was a near perfect score. That fact that this miserable student had scored so well could mean only one thing to the school administrators: He had cheated! After proclamations of innocence, as well as protest from my mother, they gave him a chance to take another version of the test, this time in a highly controlled environment and closely watched. The result was predictable: This time he did manage a perfect score.

At this the school took note. As all school systems do when confronted by a challenging student, they set out to make an example of him. They patiently waited until he was about to graduate, and then informed him and my mother that some of his credits from the 8th grade wouldn't count. (Previously my parents had been assured that all of those grades would count.) Since he was going right into the Navy, he was completely screwed.

Fortunately, my mother can be a terrifying woman. She took it to the school board, and her threats to take the matter all the way to the governor proved sufficient to make them back down.

The main lesson from my brother's school career? They don't give a damn if you've actually received an education. They only care that you do what they told you, when they told you.

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